Hemlock's Diary
6-12 November 2005
Mon, 7 Nov
The week starts in the gym, where I walk fast uphill on the treadmill while reading the
South China Morning Post

Do we detect a drop of sweat trickling down the Government’s forehead?  The pro-democracy camp appears resolute in threatening to veto the proposed constitutional reforms, which, on a scale of zero (the status quo) to 10 (universal suffrage) takes Hong Kong to 1, perhaps.  With unflappable Chief Executive Donald Tsang in London, the administration has wheeled out Central Policy Unit chief and drafter of dismal policy addresses Lau Siu-kai to warn that the momentum for democracy is fading, and if the proposals are rejected, support for the idea will just fizzle away.  What hallucinogenic drugs is Lau on, and where can I get some?  This was the sort of CPU fantasy-land advice Tung lapped up, much to the exasperation of civil servants. 

Throughout modern history, economic development has led to pressure for the franchise.   Singapore is the exception that proves the rule.  The Lion City has the world’s only lobotomized middle class, its people unaware they have a choice other than to be cowed into compliance.  Australia and the Vatican are pleading for the life of one Van Tuong Nguyen, who will hang at Changi Prison in the next few days for being one of the small percentage of dim-witted drug smugglers actually caught.  He’s just a ‘mule’, and killing him will serve no purpose, critics say.  They miss the point.  He has to die, for the same reason a man selling fireworks in Singapore must be flogged, and a woman shoplifting cosmetics must serve 10 years in prison – to condition the population.
Singapore’s burly cane-wielders would be busy in France, where 900 people have been arrested after Paris’s ethnic minority banlieues go through their 11th night of rioting.  Except it’s not really rioting – more of a light, guerilla-style uprising, the idea being to set as many cars alight as possible.  And buses, and shops, and public buildings.  In normal countries, ghettos are in the city centres, so they can be gentrified, and turned from depressed, dilapidated, high-crime areas into vibrant, cosmopolitan high-crime areas.  But in France the non-white underclass live in outer suburbs, kept unemployed by non-Anglo-Saxon economic policies and completely ignored by everyone else.  Although 4,000 car owners (so far) have probably noticed them now.  Just to make things interesting, the arsonists are mostly Muslim. 

On 17 October 1961, some 200 Algerians were massacred in Paris by police (whose chief had honed his organizational skills deporting Jews during World War II).  Bodies floated down the Seine.  During the student protests of 1968, there were rumours of a military coup, President de Gaulle fled to an air base in Germany, and tanks patrolled the Paris streets.  This is not a north European country we are talking about here.
By the time the business section drops to the floor, I have burnt up 500 calories, which is about average.  On a thin day, the SCMP offers around 350 calories’ worth of reading.  On one occasion the paper must have been packed with riveting news and views, because I burnt up 800 to get through it – or maybe an editorial on sustainable development left me marching away in my sleep.

Tue, 8 Nov
God enters the Hong Kong democracy debate, suggesting that the devout Catholic Sir Bow-Tie’s fervent shoeshining of the Almighty has come to nothing.  As well as the Holy Romans, led by the turbulent Bishop Zen, the Lutherans, Methodists and Anglicans are urging their adherents to oppose the Government’s Beijing-approved political reforms and demand universal suffrage.  Teachers and social workers are also stirring.  Not for the first time, the overlap between the Big Lychee’s Christians, middle class and pro-democracy camp will become apparent. 

Hong Kong’s lower orders and uneducated nouveaux riches – the simple folk who cast pro-Beijing votes at election time – consult feng shui masters, burn joss sticks and bow to an array of gods and goddesses in search of success at the race track or the stock market.  The better-off, better-traveled and better-schooled bourgeoisie – who support the pro-democracy camp – seek longer-term redemption in Christianity.  Bestriding this cultural gap is our valiant Chief Executive, simultaneously loyal to the glorious motherland’s Communist leadership and member of a church banned on the Mainland as a foreign threat to the state.  A personification of that square-peg-being-banged-into-round-hole experiment known as ‘one country, two systems’.  Donald’s position on universal suffrage is clear.  Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s, he tells us, referring to the right to decide if or when the city can choose its own temporal powers.  Let us hope he is right.  I would hate to see all those expensive fish ponds at Government House evaporated by a thunderbolt.
Shouldest thou help the ungodly, and love them that hate the LORD?  Therefore is wrath upon thee from before the LORD.
2 Chronicles 19
Wed, 9 Nov
An email arrives from a university student writing a dissertation comparing and contrasting our colonial governors with post-colonial chief executives.  Have their competence, behaviour or style changed in any way since 1997, she asks.  It is an interesting question.  Flicking through my copy of
From Excellency to Bozo – 160 Years of Visionary Hong Kong Leadership in Pictures, I detect a shift of some sort at the time of the handover, but I can’t quite put my finger on it.
Before 1997 After 1997
Sir Henry Pottinger

Declared barren rock open for business to anyone desperate enough to be interested.  Invented name ‘Big Lychee’
Sir John Pope Hennessy

Enlightened reformer who introduced racial integration of hangings.  Founder of Wanchai girly bar themed district
Sir Murray MacLehose

Wiped out all police corruption of every description throughout the entire force, permanently.  Urged use of colour film by official photographers.
‘Triple Violator’ Chris Patten

Enhanced Chinese understanding of the role of sarcasm in British political discourse.  Struggled to get vacuous political reform bill through Legco

Turned vibrant, prosperous, confident metropolis into impoverished, demoralized and diseased shell, to further the glory of the motherland
Sir Bow-Tie

Enhanced British understanding of the role of sarcasm in Chinese political discourse.  Struggling to get vacuous  political reform bill through Legco
Sir George William Des Voeux

Introduced practice of adding “East’ and ‘West’ sections to highways, so he could have three roads named after himself.
Thurs, 10 Nov
Breakfast with voluptuous Administrative Officer Winky Ip in the dusty and faded surroundings of Yuet Yuen Restaurant.  “You’re writing total rubbish, as usual,” the high-flyer mutters, stirring peanuts into her congee.  “There is no Des Voeux Road East.  He only has two roads named after him.”  I wave the comment aside.  As one of only 17 people in this town who pay tax, I find it irritating enough to finance bureaucratic pedantry, let alone listen to it first thing in the morning. 

“The point is,” I explain, “you never saw Pottinger with Mickey Mouse did you?”  She wasn’t born then, she replies.  “Or MacLehose.”  Just as well.  He was 11 feet tall and might have accidentally stepped on the mouse.  Winky takes a sip of juk and sighs.

“I remember him,” she says.  “We were schoolkids!”  I nod.  Nostalgia time.  “This place was here,” she goes on.  “Just the same.”  Yuet Yuen’s been here for ever.  Pottinger was probably dragged here by tiresome civil servants, for the ambience.  I survey the wall-mounted fan, the hand-written menus tacked to the wall, the plastic flowers in a vase by the cash register near the door.  Take a good look, because it might not be here for much longer.  Old Mrs Ng is thinking of selling the place, or leasing it out.  What’s a decrepit neighbourhood eatery aimed at residents doing here?  Get rid of it.  Open another 500 sterile, clinical-looking outlets selling skin-whitening products.  Open more identical chain stores owned by Li Ka-shing.  Open more McDonalds.  And Disney.  The Revenge of Tung continues. 

But life goes on.  Trying to look efficient rather than desperate, the Government is
stepping up its groveling to win wavering legislators’ votes for its constitutional reforms.  Like other loyal Friends of Donald, the Chairman of S-Meg Holdings is helping out, coaxing a few moderate pro-democrats – those who are on first-name terms with him and whose kids call him ‘uncle’.  And so the Company Gwailo needs to get to the office. 

“I nearly forgot.” Winky rummages around in her bag.  “I’ve got something for your boss, from mine.”  She passes me a large brass knuckle duster.

Fri, 11 Nov
Apart from helping the Big Boss contrive gently persuasive and logically compelling reasons why wavering democrats should vote for the Government’s political reforms, what have I accomplished this week?  Nothing.  And that’s because of Hemlock’s first law of productive inactivity – the longer you leave a job undone, the more likely it will be that it doesn’t need to be done.  It applies everywhere, but especially in S-Meg Holdings, whose resolute and farsighted Chairman’s  attention deficit disorder leads to frequent changes of mind and plans.  Thus it is that the Company Gwailo strolls into the building a bit late this morning.  Ms Fang the hunter-killer secretary sits at her desk in the middle of Private Office, dabbing her face with little pieces of powdered, perfumed paper.  I ask her if ‘he’ will be around later. 

“No, I’m afraid not,” she tells me, now pouting at herself in a little hand-held mirror.  “He’ll be at the Cantohog board meeting until late afternoon – sorry.” 
Sorry?  The woman’s deranged.  I’m just confirming that the day ahead will be one of leisure.  Safely in the gwailo’s lair, I dust my in-tray, shove a project with a 22 November deadline to a shelf near the wastepaper bin, and consider the state of the planet.

Well-fed ex-governor
Chris Patten is in town to peddle his new book, Not Quite The Diplomat.  In fact, he’s enough of one to refrain from mentioning that the Government’s constitutional package will leave Hong Kong less democratic up to
2012 than it was when he sailed off in 1997.  He just likes irritating people who beg to be irritated.  Like the time Beijing criticized his welfare spending, and he retorted (something like), “As a conservative, it seems strange to have communists accuse me of being too socialist.”  How China’s leaders, ever happy to look on the funny side of things, chortled at that delightfully amusing irony! 

Trivia question – which legislator who voted against Chris Patten’s reforms will also vote against Donald Tsang’s?
The bombings of three US-owned hotels in Amman have killed 57 people.  The terrorists have tried to hit these targets before – between them, they are always full of Americans, Brits and Israelis.  But of course, hardly any of the dead were infidels.  Many were attending a wedding party.  Is there anyone who doesn’t bomb Arab wedding parties these days? 

If I supported the jihadist campaign to wipe out Western civilization and establish a caliphate from Casblanca to Jakarta, I’d be asking, “Is this the best they can do?”  You recruit some demented losers into your cult, strap explosives onto them and send them off to go ‘bang’ and kill some passers-by.  And then what?  It’s facile.  The world carries on.  They’re achieving less in a decade than a student of Hemlock’s first law of productive inactivity does in a week. 

History exam question from the year 2105 – Account for the ‘Islamist terror panic’ of 2000-2010.